By Stephen Marks
SAN SALVADOR — One of the jokes told at the left's closing election rally here referred to the big letter "Z" emblazoned on the T-shirted chests of "Zamora for President" supporters. The story goes that when Calderon Sol, the candidate for the right wing ARENA party, was shown the T-shirt he panicked and screamed "Take it away — it's the mark of Zorro". (Zorro was the legendary anti-colonial hero in Mexico whose calling card was the letter "Z" slashed with his sword.)
The massive, predominantly youthful crowd, responded warmly to similar jokes and packed the Civic Plaza on March 13 in a rally which started in the early afternoon and turned into an all-night dance party.
Shafik Handal, coordinator for the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), told the crowd that the size of the gathering was a tribute to the organising ability of the left. Contrary to the song that ARENA supporters sing, "El Salvador will be the grave of communists", Handal said that El Salvador would not become the grave for anything but electoral fraud.
In two years the FMLN has made the remarkable transition from guerilla movement to one of the strongest political parties in the country. It has formed an electoral alliance with Democratic Convergence (CD), a moderate leftist party, which developed out of three small parties which contested the last elections, and the smaller National Resistance Movement (MNR), affiliated to the social democratic Socialist International.
The coalition is supporting National Assembly representative and CD member Ruben Zamora for president. The three parties have electoral agreements in most of the National Assembly, mayoral and local government contests.
Zamora spoke strongly in support of the peace accords and attacked ARENA for preparing a massive electoral fraud. He invoked the names of many of the martyrs of El Salvador's long fight to achieve electoral democracy such as Archbishop Oscar Romero and Farabundo Marti, the founder of the Salvadoran Communist Party. Vice-presidential candidate Francisco Lima, a progressive business person and former vice president, paid tribute to the enthusiasm and energy of the young campaign workers.
The happy and positive mood was in striking contrast to the menaces used by the right-wing parties. To complement the fact that the ARENA government has stalled in complying with its obligations under the peace accords, Calderon Sol has been threatening to disavow the peace accords if elected.
ARENA has many links with the notorious death squads, which are still active, and Sol himself was recently revealed to have had links with their murderous activities.
ARENA is making full use of the resources and advantages it has by being in power. Its TV ads are run back to back with Government promotional ads, and they use almost identical imagery, slogans, colours and messages.
A shadowy organisation calling itself the Freedom and Democracy Institute has been running a series of unauthorised ads which use images from the past war to smear the coalition and especially the FMLN. Sol has been careful never to debate Zamora or any of the issues raised by the coalition.
ARENA's closing activity broke into street fighting as ARENA supporters taunted bystanders, particularly the street vendors, who Sol, as mayor of San Salvador, has been trying to evict.
While ARENA leads in the opinion polls, it appears that the coalition is overcoming tremendous obstacles to come from behind. The presidential contest may yet go to a run-off between Sol and Zamora.